John Wort Hannam

PREVIEW: John Wort Hannam presented by Kinosoo Performing Arts, Saturday March 26 8:00 pm at the Lakeland Inn. 

Twenty years ago, John Wort Hannam traded a teaching career for the life of a singer and songwriter. 

Now with eight albums out, the Lethbridge-based performer is bringing his band to Cold Lake for a Kinosoo Performing Arts show this Saturday.

Hannam has won his share of awards along the way, including a JUNO nomination, a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Album of the Year, a CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award, and a Kerrville Texas New Folk win.

“We’re an acoustic-based roots group,” Hannam said. “We’re coming as a four-piece so there’ll be upright and electric bass, drums, keys and guitar. And lots of harmonies.”

The music on his most recent recording “Long Haul” is true to the folk tradition, rich with characters and stories. And while it’s a far cry from commercial country music, it has a gently twangy touch to it. 

The concert will mostly feature his most recent songs. “It’ll be mostly the new songs, but there’s a few from the old records as well, which date back as far as 20 years ago,” he said.

“It’s all original music, it’s lyrically driven music. But it’s certainly not what I call that belly button-gazing, one guy and a guitar singing about all of his woes. It’s pretty up-tempo.”

The Cold Lake concert will the band’s fifth this month, following the long Covid layoff. The rehearsal process and the early part of the tour gave them a chance to get back in the swing of performing.

Hannam says playing for audiences again has not only brought back the “how” of making music, but the “why.”

“We’ve had such great audiences over the last few days, and it just makes us feel good,” he said. And that good feeling extends to the audiences as much as the players.

“They can just come up and tell you a factual statement like, ‘oh, this the first concert I’ve been to since early 2020,’ or just sort of pour their heart out saying, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe how good I feel. I had forgotten how important music is for my life and my well-being’ and stuff like that,” he said.

Hannam can relate. He suffered a bout of severe depression a few years ago where he couldn’t sing and couldn’t write. He sought medical help to try and regain his singing voice, but the specialists kept telling him there was no reason he shouldn’t be able to sing.

People suggested it wasn’t the loss of his voice causing the depression—it was the depression that took away his voice.

“I started going to doctors and getting scopes up my nose and down my throat, the whole bit,” he said. “And everyone I went to said, ‘you’re healthy. Everything looks good, there’s no scars or lesions or anything like that on your vocal cords. 

“And at the end of the session, they’d always say, ‘how’s your life?’ And I would say well, it sucks right now because I can’t sing. If you could fix my voice, my life would be better.”

“And almost all of them said no, it’s the other way around. Fix your life and your voice will come back.”

With some counselling and medication, and even a bit of help from an opera coach, Hannam found he could sing again. “I took care of some mental health issues, and when I did my voice came back,” he said.

“During that spell, too, I wasn’t writing anything. They seemed to be sort of side by side—once I could sing better, I could write better.”

Collaborating with his bandmates has given Hannam—and his songs—new life and new energy. 

“It’s the same songs whether I sing them solo or with a band, but playing with an ensemble, there’s just an energy that feeds off of each other. There’s a joy in creating something together and making music together,” he said.

“It just feels really really good, and it makes the music even more accessible.”

Hannam has played Cold Lake once before, several years ago accompanied by a fiddler. He’s excited to be returning with new songs and a new sound.

“We’re just really happy to be on the road and playing in front of people,” he said.